We Americans adore our smartphones. We love our smart cars. But when it comes to owning a smart toilet — well, we're not so sure about that.
But apparently we're changing our minds. Attachable bidet (pronounced bih-DAY) seats — hands-free, high-tech marvels that you can install on your existing throne to gently wash and dry your private parts — are growing in popularity, particularly with boomers upgrading the bathrooms in their empty nests, or splurging on their new, downsized digs.
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The seats also can be a lifesaver for older people who need help using the toilet, says Mary Tinetti, M.D., head of geriatrics at the Yale University School of Medicine.
Toto, the Japanese company that's the world's largest manufacturer of bidet-style toilets and add-on seats, has seen U.S. sales of its Washlet seats steadily increase since they were introduced in the United States in the 1990s. (In Japan, the Washlet is so ubiquitous that its name has become virtually synonymous with the word toilet.)
Although David M. Krakoff, head of North American sales for Toto, won't reveal exact figures, he says sales have grown annually by nearly 20 percent for the past decade. Sales spiked 50 percent in 2010 with the introduction of new models and showrooms.
It hasn't hurt that the Washlet has its vociferous fans among celebrities, including Whoopi Goldberg, who installed one in each of the six bathrooms in her New Jersey mansion and yakked about it on The View, as well as Bryant Gumbel, Howie Mandel and Brad Pitt, according to Toto.
The Kohler Company, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer, introduced what it calls "toilet seats with bidet functionality" in 2006. Although the company also won't reveal sales figures, spokesman Shane Allis confirms an increase in the "overall bidet market."
The devices, which run from $650 to $1,800, have remote-controlled retractable wands that spray well-aimed, warm, aerated water to clean you front and back. A dryer emits warm air, which reduces or eliminates the need for toilet paper, and an air purifier absorbs any unpleasant odors. The lid even closes quietly when you're done — a function one wag called "the marriage-saver."
In addition, nearly every option can be customized, from the temperature of the seat, water and air, to the pulsating of the spray and the speed of the dryer. Depending on the model, you can also have a lighted bowl to guide you in the dark. Plus, the seats can save you money, both on toilet paper and water, because they often require less water to flush.
Next: Bidet seats helpful for those with physical mobility issues. »